Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Luis Gonzalez: Hall of Famer? 

With the announcement that Edgar Martinez will retire at the end of the season, I've heard discussion regarding whether Edgar Martinez will get into the Hall of Fame. Aside from the silly debate as to whether designated hitters should even (or will ever) be admitted into the Hall of Fame, the debate revolves around whether Edgar's stats are good enough to get into the Hall of Fame.

Let me present 3 players, with the following stats:
Age at start of 2004 season, Games Played
Hits, Doubles, HR
VORPs 2000-2004, Total VORP over period

Player 1
36, 2008
2057, 458, 292
3517, .286, .859
60.6, 104.5, 46.7, 53.2, 21.5 -- 286.5

Player 2
39, 2238
2284, 397, 273
3718, .276, .787
52.3 21.0, 46.5, 39.9, 31.3 -- 191.0

Player 3
41, 2014
2207, 510, 306
3665, .312, .939
87.2, 69.1, 35.6, 23.5, 14.4 -- 229.8

So which one is Edgar Martinez? Well, you may have figured that out by looking for his number of doubles (510), hits (2207), and batting average (.312) -- it's player 3.

But when I thought about Edgar Martinez and his qualifications for the Hall of Fame, I started to think of Luis Gonzalez -- player 1. And, if you look at those stats, I gotta say, they're in the same ballpark, to use a metaphor. Especially if you consider the fact that Gonzo will have at least 2 more years in the majors. It's not unreasonable to think that in 2005 and 2006 Gonzo would get a) 150 hits (OK, 200 since Edgar will get 50 more this year), b) 52-60 doubles, c) 14-20 home runs, and d) 74-990 RBIs. At that point, the only significant difference between Edgar and Gonzo in his lifetime stats would be the batting average / OPS. That gap won't be significantly closed, but Gonzo might have the edge in other, more cumulative stats (e.g., homeruns).

Check out the VORP, too. Obviously, Edgar's numbers the past 5 years chart the course Gonzo and Player 2 (who is that masked man?) will likely follow in the next 1, 2, 3 years, but Gonzo certainly has had an excellent past 5 years (OK, 4 excellent years and 1 fair-at-best).

And, yes, Gonzo plays in the field. I don't think that playing the DH should at all count against somebody's Hall chances, but people who play the field should get some credit for that. Gonzo will never be known as a great left fielder, but I don't think he's an awful one, either. (Of his 12 Win Shares for this year, 1.2, or about 10%, were for his fielding.)

So I'm not saying that Edgar Martinez should or should not or will or will not enter the Hall of Fame. I'm not saying Luis Gonzalez should or should not or will or will not enter the Hall of Fame. (Bill James would have opinions and even a list of questions to address both questions.)

But I am saying that if you seriously consider Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame, you need to seriously consider Gonzo, too.

P.S. For what it's worth, Player 2 is Steve Finley. He's further away from Martinez in his offensive stats, but has better defensive stats than Gonzo. I'm not ready to put Finley in the same category, but maybe he'll have another stellar couple years...

For what it's worth, I realize that I:
a) haven't adjusted the raw stats for park effects
b) haven't mentioned the significant risk of rapid decline in Gonzo's skills
c) sound like I'm advocating Gonzo for the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I'd probably stop just shy of putting him in, though shy of Lance Berkman, name one left fielder of his era who's been better.

Oh, well, of course Bonds is better. That's probably one of Gonzo's problems -- Gonzalez puts up a VORP of 100+ and has a legitimate Triple Crown year in 2001 only to have Bonds have a lifetime year that same year (150+ VORP).
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